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Penguins Stopped Play by Harry Thompson

Release date: 12th April, 2006
Publisher: John Murray Publishing

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £7.79
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Penguins Stopped Play
By Harry Thompson
John Murray Publishing price: £7.79, saving £5.20 on rrp

Cricketers are justifiably renowned for their physical, written and sartorial eccentricity.

Recently, I met a chap who had waited in agony for eighteen months to undergo a hip replacement operation, yet when offered a date for surgery by his local hospital, he decided to delay a little longer as the dates clashed with an annual six-a-side cricket tournament in Thailand which he never missed.

He could barely walk when he returned, but still considered his Asian trip to be great fun, quoting Graeme Hick to anyone who would listen: "If you're a good enough player, you don't need to leave your crease."

In Marcus Berkmann's excellent Zimmer Men, an affectionate look at the trials and tribulations of the ageing cricketer, he writes, in all seriousness, "There is nothing that puts the wind up the opposition quite like the clunk of a cricket ball on a prosthetic leg."

You get the picture. Cricket offers all men (and women) the chance to have fun and do something extraordinary, often irrespective of their physical ability, provided they're team players and everyone can laugh along with them.

The preliminary lines of Harry Thompson's hilarious Penguins Stopped Play establishes an unlikely opening scene for a cricket book (he's in Antarctica). From this, the reader can immediately deduce that they will be party to several great British traditions, each of which will be pursued in cricket's name.

Disappointed and frustrated at their inability to fulfil their pilgrimage to Captain Scott's base hut, the appropriately-named Captain Scott XI decide upon an impromptu game of cricket on the Antarctic ice. Finding a ball is no problem, although putting their hands upon a bat or wickets proves a challenge. An oar is seconded into service as a bat, while a backpack doubles as stumps.

Thompson himself opens the batting, cutting the third ball down towards long leg. As our hero turns for his second run, however, he catches sight of the fielder being attacked by a giant seabird which, it transpires, is a skua. The bird had never seen a crimson red cricket ball before and apparently mistook it for an egg which it desperately tries to capture.

Unperturbed at this bizarre scene, Thompson decides not to go to the assistance of his pal but to turn a steal a third run before deciding upon turning "a streaky inside edge into an all-run four." Marvellous.

Thompson's very funny tale is of a motley collection of cricketers, ie the usual type, who decide to embark on a journey which entails playing cricket on each of the world's seven continents. And, like many an epic journey before it, not least the best amateur cricket tours, this one has it roots in drink and a willingness to be considered eccentric.

Provided with such a potentially rich seam of material from which to mine, Thompson does not disappoint, often producing golden nuggets which cause the reader to burst into laughter. Rarely has there been a funnier cricket book.

But it is one tinged with poignancy, for just three days after finishing his hilarious tome, Harry Thompson died, aged just 45. It's sad to think that he will not be afforded the opportunity to add to a piece of work likely to position itself highly among cricket's burgeoning literary ranks, although one fancies he will continue to smile upon cricketing eccentricity wherever it may appear.

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